Ongoing Investigations: Case #239

hisui_icon_4040  A long time ago, we used to be canceled.

It was a fairly well publicized story. On May 22, 2007 the last episode of the Veronica Mars series was played on TV. While there were many dangling plot lines it seemed that the ending of season third would be all they officially wrote about the series. In 2013 a Kickstarter was launched to fund a movie that could finally give some closure to the series. It was wildly successful and the movie caused quite the hubbub. Kate and I loved the movie. You can hear our gushing praise on the Speakeasy. The movie did rather well on tying up all the loose ends from the TV series while showing that Veronica continues on to be her bad self. But the momentum of the Kickstarter seems unstoppable. The first major item from that continued energy is a Veronica Mars novel.

If you went into Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line with a healthy amount of trepidation no one could blame you. Fiction based on TV series can be wildly variable. If you have ever read things like Star Trek or Star Wars novels you will know that reading those books can be like playing Russian Roulette. Since writing novels like this is a work for hire affair you will get all stripes of writers looking for a pay check. Sometimes you get some amazing synergy when a good writer totally gets a series and has a great story for the characters to dig into. Most of the time you get some mediocre work. Maybe the author writes the characters a bit too much like their own characters as opposed to their established portrayal. Other times the characters are on point but the plotting is weak. Sometimes you just get shlock that makes you wonder why you did not just read something from fanfiction.com. Your never sure what you’re going to get.

Thankfully this first novel feels like a good Veronica Mars story. Not the best Veronica Mars story. But it feels like a good episode of the TV series. I think that is exactly what you want for a book like this. A radical examination of the character or an experimental work seems a bit too bold out of the gate. Unless you plan for this to be the only novel something that impactful would make everything after it feel limp. You want something that assures the audience that these novels will be enjoyable and exciting but not that they are GOING TO CHANGE EVERYTHING FOREVER.

At the same time the story feels like more than just a throw away story. Veronica and her father move forward after their somewhat strained relationship in the movie, Mac moves into a more predominant role, and there are one or to other changes that are spoilers I won’t go into. Enough happens that it feels like a real TV episode. If everything is static the novel feels like a filler arc from a shonen show. Too many changes and it feels like silly fan fiction.

Also all these changes are canon. So this won’t be pushed aside by a new movie or series.

The actually case moves quickly. I read the story in two days without even trying that hard to read it. But at the same time it does not feel rushed which is possible the greater crime for a novel to commit. The fast pace does help some of the later twists feel stronger. I read the novel in two days and I was hardly trying very hard. So I did not meditate too hard on the mystery and was more absorbed in it. It let me notice some of the clues so the solutions did not come out of nowhere but did not let me dwell on them too long so I figured out everything before it happened. If the story had moved a bit slower I probably would have meditated on it more.

Apparently the book already has a sequel lined up called Veronica Mars: Mr. Kiss & Tell. Jennifer Graham and Rob Thomas are still writing this one so at least the writing will be consistent which means I can look forward to it with a minimum of trepidation. For such genre fiction that is a fairly strong endorsement.

narutaki_icon_4040 Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham was way too good for being a novel based on a media property.

The voice is what is most important in a venture like this. If the voice doesn’t come-off like Veronica then it is just a mystery novel. But Veronica sounds spot on in the way she verbalizes both in dialogue and internal thoughts. Kristen Bell made the character what she is, but from this book you can tell how well written the character has been and how well the writers understand her.

Biggest and best part of the book has to do with Veronica really sinking her teeth into being a for-realz P.I. Not that she doesn’t bust out some of her old tricks, but she is now an adult and professional and it changes the dynamics a a bit.

There is a lot of personal progress made in this book which left me very surprised mostly because if they make another movie I don’t know how they will reconcile it with the book(s?). But I won’t fret over that, instead I’ll look forward to the next story!

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching, reading, or playing outside of our main blog posts. We each pick three things without much rhyme or reason; they are just the most interesting things since the last OI.

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hisui_icon_4040 Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! -Heart Throb could have been terrible. It was not that hard. It had all the elements that to make it into a super mediocre series. I was really impressed how the first series managed to defy expectations. It seemed like it was going to be an awful harem romance series that took a single small book and turned it into a bloated 13 episode “comedy.” (Where the comedy was very deliberately put into quotes by yours truly.) But every time it seemed like the show would head down the sinister path towards skeevy or stale it instead remained fun and wholesome. That does not seem like a huge accomplishment but given its genre that is almost heroic. But the story of Yuta and Rikka mostly seemed to be wrapped up in the first season. So it was easy to get the feeling that the new season would easy ruin the careful balance of the first season.

Thankfully the second season merely builds on the first season. It is not very ambitious. If anything the little amount of self-aware analysis and reflection in the first season is even smaller in this season but it continues to remain on the high road of entertaining as opposed to going down the dark slide towards pandering. First off the bat was the show never went into harem country. Nibutani, Dekomori, and Kumin are all friends with Yuta and Rikka and have different roles in their lives but none of them really seem to have any romantic attachment to Yuta. It is amazingly refreshing to see attractive characters be able to have platonic friendships. So often it is either one character is less than desirable or there has to be sexual tension. Chunibyo thankfully just lets these women be themselves and not just failed suitors for Yuta’s affections. It also lets the cast be mainly female without making them seem like total fetish objects.

Satone Shichimiya was a bit worrying. She easily could have been “totally unnecessary love obstacle” girl. But they make sure that the stars of the show are still Yuta and Rikka. Satone acts more as a tool for analysis of the main characters and their growth than just an enemy that needs to be defeated. I also never thought the show really presented her as a girl who you thought would whisk Yuta away. She was more of an old symbol of unresolved Chunibyo. It is not that she never was a spanner in the works. It was just that they kept that to a minimum and never let the complications last too long.

Also Yuta’s sister is just that. A younger girl who is biologically related to him. She does not worship him, secretly want to marry him, pretend to hate him, or want to really insert herself in his life. He is someone she lives with and is generally cordial with but at the same time she does not want to put up with his nonsense. I think it is best summed up when Kumin says, “You must really love your brother.” Kuzuha’s reply is merely a shrug and “I guess.” With the season of incest it is nice to see some familial relationships that are totally innocent and feel real. Kuzuha might act a LITTLE too mature at times but I think that is more narrative convenience than anything of sinister connotation.

Dekomori and Kumin along with all the other anime only characters still continue to feel like they always were in the original source material. It still amazes me that they were not in the light novels. So often characters like these would feel forced or incongruent but with Chunibyo you can’t imagine the story without them. If nothing else they really make Nibutani feel much more realized. They add a nice depth to the main characters and a good energy or calm to their antics.

Chunibyo is a fun little series that celebrates being an otaku while also poking fun at the fandom with a smile and a wink. This is not the dark comedy of WataMote or Welcome to the N.H.K. just in case you were looking for that. This show does not seek to draw blood. It is a fun little romance with pleasant comedy that all knows we probably went through a time in our lives similar (or know someone who did) and asks us to smile at these mistakes of youth.

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narutaki_icon_4040 I read the first volume of Sherlock Bones by Yuma Ando and Yuki Sato. For some reason or another, Sherlock Holmes has been reincarnated as a tiny dog who Takeru Wajima finds at the local shelter. They solve a crime on the way home which prompts Sherdog to declare Wajima his Watson. When they arrive home a family pipe allows Sherdog to speak though only Wajima can understand him.

Sherdog is very cute as you might expect. Wajima is also a cute little guy so there is an adorable factor here.

The series features very overly screen-toned fan-service. There wasn’t a ton but it always stuck out in an odd way.

The first real case spans the entire volume which gave it a meaty feel. The murderous face on the teacher on the other hand was fantastically laughable. You know the perpetrator of the crimes but the story is about how they committed those crimes. I’m not a huge fan of this mystery method. Once and a while is fine, but if that is the staple for the series I’m not that excited.

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hisui_icon_4040 Media is clearly still in a period of extreme flux. What to charge people, how to charge people, and how you dole products out are all ideas that are constantly changing. DLC, season passes, piracy, indy games, free to play, and Steam sales all have changed consumers habits. Case and point my roommate got the 2013 Tomb Raider for free off of PSN. So when I had the apartment to myself one weekend I decided to  see what games were just hanging out on his PS3 going unplayed after I had played with the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle for a bit. Despite all the initial controversy around the game and the understandably jadedness towards the title it actually was well received when people actually played it. How well it did is another story but that has much more to due with rising budgets and unrealistic sales expectations more than anything else. What anyone reading this cares about is was the game actually good a year after it initially came out.

I think the first question needs to be “Did this series need a reboot?” My answer. It did not hurt. At one point Tomb Raider and Lara Croft were integral parts of the video game landscape. But after a while interest in the game died out in no small part to later iterations either being repetitive or innovative in all the wrong ways. So a reboot that dusted off the character and updated the game play to something a bit more palatable was something the property really needed. Tomb Raider had distinctly become a product of its era in all the ways you don’t want to be.This wisely added a bit more story while throwing out the old game play because it was dated. It is important to note that it was dated game play in a way that was no longer fun.

I am a little loathed to admit the description Uncharted with a female protagonist is not an entirely unwarranted description of the game. It is distinctly reductionist and glosses over what Tomb Raider does to make itself its own property but if you wanted a single sentence description that gave you a general idea of the game play it serves that purpose well. You have you extremely prevalent cover based firefights as well as lost of climbing based platforming. I have to say I don’t play that many modern games, so I was fine with cover based firefights, but even I have noticed it really seems to have become the default combat in modern games. It does this form of game play well make no mistake. I did feel like I was being ambushed for the sake of being ambushed a few times near the end. But it was never to Uncharted one levels of hell. I just feel it is the time of fight that easily wears out its welcome. An ambush in a tight room can make for an exciting fight if used judiciously but if you use it too many times it just feels like your being thrown into a brick wall you then have to climb over after a while.

The platforming seemed fair. Where you were supposed to climb was never too obfuscated but at the same time never felt like the game was utterly holding your hand like a baby. That is probably the prefect balance you can ask for. It might have erred a little too much on not being to puzzling but I’m sure if I was beating my head against the wall trying to figure out what to do next more I might be singing a different tune. The optional puzzle tombs were never too hard. I felt like 70% of the battle was figuring out what to do more than how to do it. A LITTLE more towards challenging might got it a little closer to Portal’s golden mean but that is more quibbling than anything else.

I did find the quick time events a bit tedious but I think that is the nature of the beast. Thankfully they were not that common.

Lara Croft has always been an odd duck of a phenomenon. Where she stand in the pantheon (if at all) of strong female characters is its own little microcosm of feminism. She definitely became such a well-known character in no small part due to her famous curves. So the reboot decided to set her back to zero. Keep her sexy but make her a bit more realistic and a but less living sex doll. Start her off fresh a naive. Skilled but untested. Someone who had the ability to be great but just needed a chance to shine. The put that character in the worst possible situation and see them persevere. What they tried to do with Metroid: Other M but this game did not utterly screw the pooch. She does get captured maybe one more time than I’d like. Then again everyone male or female in the cast gets captured several times so maybe I’m being overly harsh. (An interesting comparison would be how many times does Lara Croft get captured vs. Nathan Drake.) Other than that it is not a perfect version of what they wanted to do but it was a good step in the right direction. For video games in general that is important.

The mythology was fairly good. It had a strong Japanese core but mixed in a good deal of various time periods due to this weird cul-de-sac of time the island Lara and her crew get trapped on. The bad guys are your generic crazy cultists but they do their job of explaining why you would have wave after wave of crazy people trying to murder you. It makes for some good set pieces and fun levels.

Overall I think for a reboot it actually accomplished what it needed to do. It took what was good about the original and dusted it off after the series had fallen into mediocrity. Theoretically they could have just made this a prequel to the original game but that was not necessary. The game did not really have any major missteps in the rebooting process and the original game’s mythology was not so strong that throwing it out was any great loss. I distinctly glad I went and tried this game out.

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narutaki_icon_4040 I started reading the new arc of Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray (issues 7-11) by Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham. This story has Fabian setting sail with pirates and thieves abound in pursuit of a mysterious island.

Chris Mooneyham’s art seems to just be getting better and better. The ocean and island landscape evoke the enchanting dangers of them with subdued colors and deep shadows. The pulpy-look is just spot on.

The revenge plot in this arc does paint Fabian in a bit of a different light. But the person behind is also throwing me off.

Another Dreamstone bearer shows up with the ghost of Sinbad in toe! This was exciting! I’m curious how many more will show up but of course it shouldn’t be over done.

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